ASPs working to hone app management systems

By Denise Pappalardo, Network World |  Software

One of the biggest challenges application service providers (ASP) face is proving they can manage and maintain enterprise applications with flexible, high-quality services. Presuming this is a huge leap of faith for many business customers, ASPs are striving to win the trust of users with new management systems that promise easier service provisioning, a variety of billing options and more detailed service-level agreements (SLA).

Businesses can expect ASPs that offer enterprise application hosting services to introduce features such as better SLAs and service options in an effort to differentiate themselves, says Chris Christensen, an analyst at IDC, a Framingham, Mass., consulting firm. "Service providers know users are willing to pay more for better services," he says.

Futurelink, Corio and USinternetworking (USi) are ahead of the curve, already deploying management tools that will lead to enhanced service offerings.

Futurelink, in Irvine, Calif., is gearing up to offer application-hosting users more flexibility with a new management system from Xevo called ASP Workbench. Futurelink is deploying ASP Workbench to offer customers simplified application hosting service provisioning and new billing options for those services, says Tony Hill, director of product management.

The management platform lets an ASP synchronize application configurations and user application parameters on a centralized database, says Rick Hronicek, president and CEO at Xevo. This means when a customer signs up, Futurelink will gather the customer's application and user parameters that apply to a firm's entire employee base. So when a new hire comes on board, it only takes seconds to get that user into the system.

Futurelink is adding ASP Workbench metering agents to all application servers. The agents will allow the ASP to bill users based on parameters set by the ASP.

Today, most ASPs charge customers by the number of users accessing a set of applications, but ASP Workbench will let Futurelink charge customers based on usage, transactions or length of time on the network.

There are a few things to keep in mind if an ASP starts offering what may seem to be a better per-transaction billing structure, as compared with a per-user billing structure, Christensen says. Be sure that you have an idea of how many employees are using an application before you choose a per-transaction model, he says, or you may miss out on promised discounts for high-volume usage.

While Futurelink is installing Xevo's ASP Workbench, Corio is fine-tuning its automated provisioning system.

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